COVID CLAMPDOWN Fines of up to €2.5k or six months in jail for house parties in lockdown
Gardaí can issue €1,000 fines to people holding house parties under new laws being considered by the Cabinet.
People found to be holding illegal gatherings can also be imprisoned for six months.
The new laws provide for a €1,000 fine or one-month prison term for hosting a house party as a first offence and this can increase to €1,500 and three months for a second offence.
For a third offence, €2,500 or a six-month prison sentence can be imposed.
Gardaí will also be given the power to stop people from entering house parties or indoor gatherings, which are banned under the Government's Covid-19 restrictions.
Officers will not be legally permitted to enter a home, but they will be able to issue fines to the occupier of a house where an illegal party is taking place.
The new legislation does not specifically set out fines for other breaches of the Government's Covid regulations.
However, it does allow for new €500 fixed charges notices which can be issued for breaches of health regulations.
This is expected to include traveling further than 5km from a home or refusing to wear a face mask on public transport, shops or in public amenities such as museums.
Last night, ministers were still debating the final amount people will be fined for these breaches. It is expected the new rules will not be voted into law until next week, despite Level 5 restrictions coming into force at midnight tonight.
The new legislation, which will be published later today, will make it an offence to organise or manage a house party or an indoor event that is in breach of public health regulations.
Once enacted, gardaí will have the legal authority to call to a home or other indoor venue and ask those present to disperse.
If those present refuse to comply with a garda request to leave the gathering, those living in the house will automatically be given a fine.
Under the new law, it will be presumed the occupier is the organiser, unless proved otherwise, and they will be issued with a fixed charge notice.
Gardaí will also have the power to issue fines to those suspected of seeking to attend a house party.
If gardaí suspect someone is on their way to a house party or are in the vicinity of a house party which is about to begin, they can direct them to leave the area.
If the individual refuses to leave, gardaí can issue them with an automatic fine.
The new fines were developed by Justice Minister Helen McEntee and Health Minister Stephen Donnelly.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has previously said the force does not need more powers to enforce Government regulations as he would prefer to police by consent.
Ms McEntee said gardaí would first engage with people before issuing fines, which would be a last resort.
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said the legislation is aimed at clamping down on the small number of people who are holding parties that are in breach of the Government's Covid-19 rules.
"And that is the only role of the sanction that will be brought in," he said.
"All of us would believe that the main way in which we're going to reduce the spread of this disease is by asking everybody to play their part.
"That's what many are doing and most are doing, but we need to do even better in the period that's coming up."
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has written to all TDs asking them to give more consideration to the new laws they are planning to enact to stop the spread of the virus.
"Government must use these powers in a manner that complies with Ireland's human rights legal obligations," the group said.
"Steamrolling an extension through the Oireachtas without reflection, scrutiny or debate is an affront to our basic democratic procedures and to the duty of our elected represent